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St. Joseph's Catholic Church

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1876, Father Damien. Kamehameha V Hwy., between mile markers 10 and 11
  • (Photograph by Augie Salbosa)
  • (Photograph by Augie Salbosa)
  • (Photograph by Augie Salbosa)

The name Father Damien (now St. Damien; he was canonized in 2009) stirs images of selfless devotion to the improvement of the human condition, Christian beatitude at its best. The aura of this saintly man enshrouds this modest Carpenter Gothic church, which he built. Painted shimmering white, the church stands on the side of the highway. A tall spire surmounts a high-pitched gable roof. Gothic-arched side windows decorated with a quatrefoil design add definition and a touch of ornamentation. The diminutive 15 × 30–foot building is double walled, and sheathed with shiplap siding on the exterior and horizontal planks on the interior. A barrel-vaulted ceiling gives the interior a spaciousness transcending its dimensions. Constructed by the man formerly named Joseph de Veuster, St. Joseph's is one of three extant churches on the island of Molokai to be associated with the priest. The other two are Our Lady of Sorrows (ML11) and St. Philomena (ML19.1). Father Damien began his work in the leper colony at Kalawao in 1873. In addition to tending to the inhabitants of Kalawao, Damien frequently traveled over the pali (cliffs) to minister to the handful of Catholic residents living “topside,” in the healthy districts of Molokai. The churches he built at Halawa and Moanui are no longer extant.

Father John Van Gils oversaw a restoration of St. Joseph's in 1971; the building received further attention in anticipation of the return of Damien's hand to Kalaupapa on July 22, 1995.

Writing Credits

Don J. Hibbard


What's Nearby


Don J. Hibbard, "St. Joseph's Catholic Church", [Kaunakakai, Hawaii], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Cover: Buildings of Hawaii

Buildings of Hawaii, Don J. Hibbard. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2011, 231-232.

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